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feb 11 2010

St. John: Warm weather escape planner

St. John is the smallest of the US Virgin Islands, but it is considered one of the most beautiful patches of untouched natural beauty in the Caribbean. Almost two-thirds of the island is made up of a national park, where you can go hiking. Off the coast, there are astonishing spots for snorkeling and scuba diving.

MUST-SEE

Cruz Bay is the capital of St. John, and it is so small that its streets don't have names. The town some restaurants, bars serving delicious rum drinks, and a park. Because cruise ships don't come to Cruz Bay—it is accessible via a 20-minute ferry ride from St. Thomas—crowds are not as huge and unwieldy as they are on other Caribbean islands.

White powder sands make Trunk Bay one of the most popular and beautiful beaches in the US Virgin Islands, if not the world. It contains a famed underwater snorkeling trail that stretches for 650 feet and helps you identify the coral and the anemone that you're viewing. Admission to the beach is $4.

Annaberg Plantation, part of the National Park, includes the ruins of a sugar plantation that dates from the late 1700s, when sugar, molasses, and rum were produced on the grounds.

Cinnamon Bay is the place to go for watersports like snorkeling, windsurfing, and kayaking. The beach has a sports center that rents equipment, and you can arrange day sailing trips and scuba diving lessons.

EATS

Try Johnny Cakes from a local take-out kiosk. A savory deep-fried flour pouch stuffed with any combination of eggs, cheese or ham, this palm-sized specialty sells for $1–$2 at the local take-out kiosks. These tiny stands also serve delicious lunches.

Comfees in downtown Cruz Bay, up the hill from FirstBank, prepares some of the best pates on the island: elliptical rolls of dough filled with ground beef, chicken, salt-fish or conch, a soft Caribbean shell-fish. At just $2-$4 each, patessimilar to Jamaican patties—make a cheap lunch that works well as a beach-side picnic.

To get away from Cruz Bay, check out the much smaller town of Coral Bay on the other side of the island, where many locals live. ViTran buses leave every two hours from the ferry dock in Cruz Bay. The 45 minute trip costs $1. Although the commercial area of Coral Bay consists of little more than a recently paved road and a handful of businesses, a casual restaurant on the main drag called Sticky Fingers serves excellent barbecue. Popular with a diverse neighborhood crowd who sit in the gravel front-yard under a baby blue and yellow awning. Order the barbecue chicken, pork ribs, or beef brisket with home-made sauce and two sides for $13 or less.

WHERE TO STAY

Maho Bay Camps: 114 tent-like cottages are set above a serene stretch of white-sand beach. When owner Stanley Selengut opened Maho Bay Camps on St. John in 1976, he never intended to be a pioneer in the ecotourism movement.

After leasing a 14-acre plot above idyllic Maho Bay, the entrepreneurial environmentalist built 114 tent-like cottages with screened windows and open-air terraces set above a glorious stretch of white-sand beach. A few years later he added nearby Harmony Studios, 12 airy apartments with kitchenettes, lofted ceilings, and large decks with water views (for better views, ask for an upper-level unit, which costs about $10 extra) maho.org.

MORE

Fly Nonstop to the Beach: Check out our interactive trip planner at budgettravel.com/nonstopcarribbean

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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